Visiting Lake Como

One of the many views of Lake Como from Villa Balbaniello

One of the many views of Lake Como from Villa Balbaniello

Just an hour north of Milan, Lake Como is a great place to relax for a few days.  Compared to the hustle of Italy's main tourist cities, Como has a super laid-back pace and some incredible sights. With some family in Como town, we got the benefit of seeing the best touristy and non-touristy spots in Como. We spent five nights in Como and wish we could have spent many more there. 

Here are some things we did during our time Como that we think are worthwhile. 

Visit Villa Balbianello 

Okay, this one's probably in your travel guide, but we think this incredible place unmissable while you're in Como. The Villa Balbianello was made famous for being used in the filming of James Bond: Casino Royale and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, and it's easy to see why. Situated pretty perfectly on one of the only peninsulas on the lake, it has beautiful gardens and incredible views of the lake. 

While not cheap, do the tour of the inside of the Villa. Billionaire, mountaineer and arctic explorer Guido Monzino was the most recent owner of the villa, and the life of this epic explorer is worthy of a movie of its own.

 
Villa Balbianello

Villa Balbianello

 
 
Villa Balbianello

Villa Balbianello

 
 
The map room in Villa Balbianello

The map room in Villa Balbianello

 

Stay in Menaggio, Varenna or Como

Of the three central towns on Lake Como that are often recommended by travel guides, we thought Menaggio and Varenna earned their reputations. Both were quaint and had some lovely views of the lakes without being overrun with tourists. While we stayed with family in Como Town, either of Menaggio or Varenna would have provided a great launching point to town hop using the local ferries.

Despite the hype, Bellagio may not be worth your time. It was full of tourists and typical tourist-junk stores. The prices were also higher in Bellagio, probably because of its reputation as a luxury destination. If you're 60 years-old and very wealthy, though, this might be your thing. 

 
Image: Visiting Como Town - Varenna
 

Take the Slow Boat to Como Town

The ferry ride between Como Town and Varenna/Menaggio/Bellagio is worth it for the views. It takes about two hours, but is an attraction on its own. Como Town has a gorgeous Duomo you shouldn't miss, along with some nice walking streets and shops that aren't your typical tourist traps.

Be sure to sit on the right side of the ferry if travelling from Menaggio/Bellagio/Varenna to Como, or the left side of the boat if leaving from Como. The nicer villas (Clooney, Versace, etc.) are all located on the west side of the lake, since it gets more sun and less harsh winds.

 
Menaggio

Menaggio

 

Take a Funicular Ride to Brunate

Sitting up in the hills above Como, Brunate has some pretty incredible views. The funicular/cable car ride from downtown Como is well worth it. Check out the Volta Lighthouse at the top of the hill, dedicated to the famous physicist who hails from this area. There's also a great panoramic view if you follow the pathway that starts at the park beside the lighthouse.

 
Entrance to the funicolare, or the cable care, to Brunate. The funicolare was built over a hundred years ago - a source of great pride to locals.

Entrance to the funicolare, or the cable care, to Brunate. The funicolare was built over a hundred years ago - a source of great pride to locals.

 

Live in the Lap of luxury (or Pretend To)

The area around Lake Como has been a vacation spot since as far back as Roman times. So there are some incredible villas in this area. The hotels are there to match these gorgeous villas and are worth a little visit even if you can't spend the night. Check out Hotel Villa D'Este, Villa Serbelloni and the Grand Hotel Tremezzo. That floating pool got us - and that feeling that we were in a Wes Anderson film. 

 
Grand Hotel Tremezzo

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

 
 
The floating pool at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo

The floating pool at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo

 

Eat at Megaride

You find Megaride restaurant (it's also a guest house) in Como town proper. This place is very unassuming, in fact, it is often empty, but the food was some of the best food we had in Italy. We asked the chef to make whatever he wanted and we were in heaven. I don't even like pumpkin and I still can't stop thinking about the pumpkin ravioli he made. We noticed they don't have the greatest reviews for their guest house, but we promise you the food is worth it. 

 
The back of Como town's duomo

The back of Como town's duomo

 

Visit Casa Carlotta and the Gardens

We didn't get a chance to take a look at Case Carlotta but we have heard from countless sources that it's worth a visit. Let us know what you think if you get a chance to visit - or if you've been!

Ultimately, you can't go wrong with a visit to Como. Just be ready to empty your wallet.